I can’t avoid it.
All talk in UK this week is concerned with a forthcoming referendum vote – a choice to ‘remain’ with the European Union, or ‘leave’. Still, at this very late stage, there is a thirst for information from those who want the element of chance eliminated entirely from their decision, which suggests there are large numbers who want to vote to leave, but daren’t.
This nervous indecisiveness is, of course, prime meat for the ‘remain’ campaigners, who wade in with dire warnings of financial Armageddon, forfeit of international influence and a variety of other terrors lurking in the black chasm that awaits a friendless UK, condemned to wandering in outer lands.
Why, they reasonably plead, take that chance? Why leave the safe harbour of your European friends and brothers for the sake of an experiment; why follow where the inexperienced shepherd leads? Is it not safer, more prudent, to remain obediently within the fold, where nations may work together for a brighter future? The EU will progress, will improve and prosper, with you or without you: why sacrifice your part in that process?
It’s a challenge I can’t resist.
Let’s question the position if the ‘remain’ argument prevails in the vote. If UK stays Brussels sees all 28 member nations coming under the umbrella of a federalist alliance which must, eventually, mean one government for all (presumably in Brussels, BTW) and one currency for all. Otherwise any major step forward will be lost in a quagmire of conflicting interests. 28 separate governments, all with their own electorates to appease, already provide plenty of ready examples of this.
The UK is a major culprit. The Westminster government has exemptions essential to its national interest in many matters, including that vital component, free movement. The UK will not surrender the pound sterling, nor will it agree (it says) to the admission of further member nations. Thus it is, in a sense, already halfway out. It occupies precisely the ‘offshore island’ position Brussels has threatened it will have if the ‘leave’ vote holds sway. And that is a position that would be untenable anyway, if the federalist plan comes to fruition.
But there is another pivotal question: just how stable and secure is the EU? Terrorist activity is on the rise, government response sluggish. Growth within the EU is negative, decision-making is ponderous, its government unrepresentative of its people. Greece, Italy and Portugal are treading close to the edge of liquidity, and the cost of living, especially in Greece and Italy, is prohibitive. Unemployment, especially amongst the young, is outrageously high. The immigration issue is seriously destabilising, with no prospect of diminishing in numbers in the immediate future. To grasp the immigration issue the EU has to renege upon Schengen, to resolve its financial imbalances the Franco-German Alliance has to consent to a very much smaller slice of the cake. Neither of these are feasible without the collapse of the EU. So, how ‘safe’ is an offshore island tethered to this leaking hulk? How long, indeed, will it stay afloat?
By contrast the UK scores highly in its ability to trade. Unemployment is low, growth is positive, and where diplomacy and guile will secure a new market, or negotiate a lucrative deal, the British will succeed: this is their history as one of the world’s great maritime trading nations. Although the playing field may have changed, those innate abilities are never lost. The UK also harbours one of the world’s great financial centres – liberated from EU constraints, its banking sector faces a profitable future. So, fiscal chasm there is not: a process of levelling, maybe, a lot of sound and fury, maybe, but ultimately signifying nothing.
In making this case I have not emphasised the UK’s status as the EU’s largest trading partner, a market they will be unwilling to forgo. Nor am I, despite your thoughts, a ‘Little Englander’. I don’t harbour dreams of national glory, or seek to relive the days of Empire. I do remember times before the EU, though, and I have some perspective upon all the UK has lost. With others of my age (I, too, was young and optimistic once) I enthusiastically declared myself a ‘European’ when the clarion call came, and even absorbed gladly the sudden rise in the cost of living that came with it. But now? No. For too many years I have watched various European interests – mainly French, German and Spanish, and more recently Eastern European – rape UK’s assets for their own advantage; and I have watched as the UK gave way, too many times.
The nation has a chance to begin to reclaim some of its own resources. Maybe it can regain some of its plundered fishing industry by reasserting its territorial waters: maybe it can subsidise and remodel its agricultural policy, begin to police its borders properly, deport the foreign criminals it is forced to detain here by EU law.
I am all for breaking down the insularity of nation states, all for the ideal of a united world. I also see these are ambitions that can only succeed when component nation states refrain from using them as a tool for conquest, and show respect for the needs and views of people, rather than their own financial gain.
With regret I have to say of the European Union; this has not happened – it will not happen – here.